Associate nursing degree programs are one of the three means by which registered nurses (RNs) enter the field of nursing. Students become RNs in one of three ways: a diploma from an approved program, an associate's degree in nursing science (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in nursing science (BSN). Associate nursing degree programs represent an intermediate option to enter this field in terms of time, expense and education. Almost always offered by community colleges, associate nursing degree programs all help a student to earn college credits and an associate's degree in the field in a traditional classroom, via online instruction or through a mix of the two venues. Many such graduates subsequently earn a bachelor's degree in nursing on a part-time basis while utilizing tuition or educational benefits offered by most hospital employers.
At one time, the vast majority of associate nursing degree programs were undertaken in a traditional classroom setting, usually at a local community college. This was the case, in part, because financial aid programs often limited students to this option and the quality of this learning environment was considered superior to the nascent field of Internet instruction. Traditional associate nursing degree programs usually require two to three years of study. The first year is often devoted solely to obtaining the limited liberal arts and prerequisite course credits necessary to be awarded a degree as opposed to just a diploma. The second and third years center around nursing, pharmacology, anatomy and physiology courses as well as clinical practicums in hospital and outpatient clinic environments.
Online associate nursing degree programs have grown in popularity as the reputations of these programs have improved and they have become eligible for coverage by local, state and national financial aid and assistance grants. This nontraditional means of study is particularly helpful to students who reside a prohibitive distance from a traditional campus or who have work hours during regularly scheduled classes. At one time, participation in an online program required special arrangements for participation in, and supervision of, clinical practicum hours. These issues have been erased, however, with the growth of online program's affiliations within the medical and nursing community. While periodic visits to the campus or a satellite area may still be necessary, they are no longer as frequent.
A new option introduced by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, — NursingCAS or Nursing Centralized Application Process — has streamlined a prospective student's application to associate nursing degree programs. In fact, this program serves applications for all levels of nursing education. NursingCAS allows a student to electronically apply once with all necessary transcripts and background documentation included to one or any number of nursing schools across the US.